Nashville is known as the "Athens of the South."
But for all its wonderful buildings, art, philosophy, poetry and plays, Athens had some very nasty skeletons rattling around in its closets. Why? Because only the Athenian elite were truly "equals" in a "democracy" that relegated other people as serfs or slaves. Nashville also has serious black marks on its history, because of the often-reprehensible way the people in power once treated Native Americans, blacks and everyone else with slightly darker skin.
Surely we have "come a long way baby," as the Virginia Slims ads used to say. But do we still have a considerable way to go, in terms of treating everyone as equals?
Athenian and American slaves were not allowed to choose their jobs and generally required someone else’s permission to marry. Today slavery has thankfully been outlawed everywhere in the United States, and yet right here in Nashville some of the powers-that-be (or perhaps the “powers-that-wannabe”) still attempt to limit the employment and marriage rights of non-heterosexuals. So it seems we still have a "long way to go, baby."
The recent meeting of businessmen and state politicians at LifeWay, a Southern Baptist agency headquartered here in Nashville, sounds very suspicious to me. What happened to separation of church and state? Are the interests of religion and business aligning to once again deny people basic freedoms and human rights?
The LifeWay meeting included William Morgan of John Bouchard & Sons, Lee Beaman of Beaman Automotive Group, Stan Hardaway of Hardaway Construction, and state representatives Glen Casada and Jim Gotto. They met behind closed doors to oppose adding four words to Metro's nondiscrimination policy: "sexual orientation, gender identity."
Morgan described the proposed changes as part of the "homosexual agenda," but of course gays only want the same basic rights as everyone else: to be able to live, work and marry as they choose, not as other people command. What happened to the idea that all human beings are created equal? Did it fly out the window the minute the doors closed? Were minds also closed — to the ideals of equality, fairness and justice?
After the meeting, Gotto told reporters the bill could have a “chilling effect” on Tennessee businesses. But, of course, Nashvillians once complained that treating minorities as equals would be “bad for business” and “too expensive.” Some people always prefer their money to other peoples' lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary,” at www.thehypertexts.com.